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HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo and Platinum Series VIVO 256MB AGP
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Date: Jun 06, 2005
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Product Specifications

As the old saying goes, "It's better to burn out than to fade away".  This holds true when we think about AGP graphics cards.  While PCI-Express has certainly gained a lot of ground, AGP is not ready to die just yet.  Virtually any video card manufacturer you look at is still offering AGP based graphics solutions, even in the high-end sector.  Surely, the day PCI-Express completely eclipses AGP isn't too far off, as the bandwidth and power benefits of PCI-Express are very real.  Nonetheless, new AGP offerings continue to hit store shelves. 

The latest such offerings to reach our test bench are from HIS in the form of their X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP and HIS X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP.  Both cards are the cream of the HIS crop, boasting the most powerful GPUs they have to offer in AGP flavor.  Over the past few months, HIS has really gotten our attention with their product line, delivering some high-quality graphics cards.  With their trademark IceQII cooling and complete retail packaging, HIS has made a statement that they are here to stay.  This was further solidified by increasing their availability in the States, which was a major detriment in the past.

HIS X850XT Specifications:
Premium Quality AGP Graphics Cards
Model Name HIS X850XT PE IceQ II VIVO 256MB AGP
Chipset Radeon X850 AGP Series
ASIC R481
Pixel Pipelines 16
Vertex Engines 6
Manu. Process (Micron) 130nm
Transistor 160M
Fill Rate 8640MTexel/s
Memory Size (MB) 256
Memory Type GDDR3
RAMDAC (MHz) 400 Dual
Engine CLK (MHz)
540
Memory CLK (MHz)
1180
Memory Interface (bit) 256
Memory Bandwidth 37.8GB/s
Max. Resolution 2048x1536
Bus Interface AGP 8X/4X
VGA Yes
2nd VGA Yes
DVI Yes
2nd DVI No
TV-out Yes
HDTV (YPrPb component output) Yes
Video-in Yes
TV Tuner No
FM Tuner No
Model Name HIS X850XT IceQ II Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP
Chipset Radeon X850 AGP Series
ASIC R481
Pixel Pipelines 16
Vertex Engines 6
Manu. Process (Micron) 130nm
Transistor 160M
Fill Rate 8640MTexel/s
Memory Size (MB) 256
Memory Type GDDR3
RAMDAC (MHz) 400 Dual
Engine CLK (MHz)
520 - 540 (Turbo)
Memory CLK (MHz)
1080 - 1180 (Turbo)
Memory Interface (bit) 256
Memory Bandwidth 37.8GB/s
Max. Resolution 2048x1536
Bus Interface AGP 8X/4X
VGA Yes
2nd VGA Yes
DVI Yes
2nd DVI No
TV-out Yes
HDTV (YPrPb component output) Yes
Video-in Yes
TV Tuner No
FM Tuner No

  

Aside from a small, quarter-sized sticker stating whether the package was a "Platinum Edition" or "Turbo" model, the retail packaging was identical on the outside.  On the inside, the similarities continued with only slight variations in content.

HIS X850XT Platinum Edition
IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP
HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo
VIVO 256MB AGP
FlatOut
Microsoft Dungeon Siege Full
PowerDVD 6
PowerDirector 3 SE Plus
Power2Go 4
3D Album PicturePro
VIVO Cable
HDTV Output cable
DVI to VGA Adaptor
FlatOut
iTurbo Overclocking Software
Microsoft Dungeon Siege Full
PowerDVD 6
PowerDirector 3 SE Plus
Power2Go 4
3D Album PicturePro
VIVO Cable
HDTV Output cable
DVI to VGA Adaptor

Both packages included the same hardware complement, including DVI-to-VGA adapters, VIVO cabling, HDTV Output cabling and molex power splitters.  The software was virtually identical as well, including a number of the same titles as seen in list below each image.  We should note that the PowerDVD 6 was the 2 channel edition, taking away slightly from the initial appeal of the included title.  Both come with a game called FlatOut, a demolition derby/racing type game that suffered from an awful soundtrack, but was somewhat addicting.  But with the main feature being the driver's ability to be ejected from the car, the game did bring a unique perspective.  Additionally, the Turbo model came with HIS' iTurbo Overclocking Software.  We've worked with the software in the past and found it to be pretty straight forward and effective, although, this time around our CD was defective.  Nonetheless, the goal with the Turbo model is to ramp up to "Turbo" speeds at the click of a mouse, allowing the card to overclock to "Platinum Edition" speeds.

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The HIS X850XT's Up Close and Image Quality
Up Close: HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo & X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII
Closer Inspection

As the pictures below show, the HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP and the Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP physically appear to be the same cards.  Both models sport the R481 core with 16 Pixel Pipelines and 6 Vertex Shaders.  The VPU on each card is supported by 256MB of GDDR3 memory.  Each model comes with a DVI and VGA output, while Dual-DVI models are also available.

    

Where the two cards differ is with their respective clock speeds.  The Platinum Edition core is clocked at 540MHz, while the Turbo edition come clocked at 520MHz and ramps up to 540MHz in turbo mode.  The memory also varies by 100MHz, with the Platinum Edition being clocked at 590MHz DDR (1180MHz) while the Turbo sports 540MHz DDR (1080MHz) and clocks up to Platinum speeds in Turbo mode.

    

Both cards sport the same IceQII cooler that is virtually dead silent.  While it is a two slot solution, we tend to like this design since the cooler also doubles as an exhaust fan rather than circulating air within the case.  The VPU has thermal paste to help conduct heat to the copper base of the IceQII, while thermal pads bridge the gap between the cooler and the GDDR3 RAM.

Ultimately, the two cards only differ in the BIOS they are flashed with and nothing more.  They are physically identical in every way.  As we move to the benchmarking phase and later assess the price point for each model, we hope to have a much clearer picture of which model is the best overall value.  But first, speaking of pictures, let's take a quick look at Image Quality.


Image Quality with the HIS X850XTs
For the Fun of It

Since the two cards are identical, we used the Platinum Edition to take a few screenshots to demonstrate image quality.  For this, we used one of our recent favorites, The Chronicles of Riddick:  Escape from Butcher Bay.  Additionally, we included reference shots from an ASUS V9999 GeForce 6800 Gamer Edition, which we also used in the benchmarking segment as a reference point.

X850XT - No AA / No Aniso X850XT - 4X AA / 8X Aniso X850XT - 6X AA / 16X Aniso
6800 - No AA / No Aniso 6800 - 4X AA / 8X Aniso 6800 - 8X AA / 16X Aniso

When comparing image quality, it's getting tougher and tougher to tell which card has the upper hand these days.  When we lined up the No AA images for each card, we found the jagged edges to be slightly harsher with the X850XTs compared to the 6800.  When we increased the quality to 4X AA with 8X Anisotropic Filtering, both images sharpened up nicely, although, when you compare the grid at the top part of the image, the 6800 seemed a bit sharper.  In all fairness, though, we are being exceptionally critical here, lining up the two images side-by-side.  Lastly, we maxed the setting out for both cards, setting Anisotropic Filtering to 16X.  At the highest settings it was anyone's game, with both cards looking sharp and detailed, giving no discernable advantage to either model.

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Performance Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI 3 & 3DMark05
HotHardware's Test System
Not all are created equal...

SYSTEM 1:
Athlon 64 3200+ @ 2GHz
Epox 8KDA3+ Motherboard
NFORCE3 250Gb Chipset
Kingston HyperX PC3500 -512MB
HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP
HIS X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP
ASUS V9999 GeForce 6800 Gamer Edition

On-Board 10/100/1000 Ethernet
On-Board Audio
WD 80GB Hard Drive
7200 RPM PATA
Windows XP Pro SP2
ATi Catalyst 5.5

ForceWare 71.89

NOTE:  When benchmarking the HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP and HIS X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP, we focused on both card's stock speeds.  Surely, we could have benchmark the Turbo in Turbo mode, but that seemed a bit redundant to us.  Since it's clear these two cards are both the same aside from the BIOS, it just didn't make sense to clock the Turbo up to the Platinum speeds and run duplicate numbers.  In the end, though, we did test each card for its peak overclocking potential.

Performance Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 3
A Classic Console Franchise On The PC

Final Fantasy XI
The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark 3 runs through multiple scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed. Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales when different video cards are used. Lower scores indicate some frames were dropped to complete the demo in the allotted time. The scores below were taken with the demo set to its "High Resolution" option (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled.

When comparing the two X850XT's there was no major difference in performance with the Final Fantasy test.  The Platinum Edition held a 64 point advantage over the Turbo model at stock speed.  The ASUS V9999 took third position, dropping a minimum of 620 points behind the next fastest card, the Turbo edition X850XT.

Performance Comparisons With 3DMark05
Futuremark's Latest - The Jury is Still Out...


3DMark05
3DMark05 is the latest installment in a long line of synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks, dating back to late 1998.  3DMark99 came out in October of 1998 and was followed by the very popular DirectX 7 benchmark, 3DMark2000, roughly two years later.  The DirectX 8.1-compliant 3DMark2001 was released shortly thereafter, and it too was a very popular tool used by many hardcore gamers.  3DMark03, however, wasn't quite as well received thanks in no small part to the disapproval of graphics giant NVIDIA.  With 3DMark05, though, Futuremark hopes to win back some of its audience with a very advanced DirectX 9 benchmarking tool.  We ran 3DMark05's default test (1,024 x 768) on all of the cards we tested and have the overall results for you posted below...

3DMark05 yielded a broader variance between the two X850XT's.  Here, the variations were 283 3DMarks in favor of the Platinum Edition.  The 12-Pipeline V9999 dropped just above 4000 3DMarks, running roughly 45% slower than the ATI based cards.

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Benchmarks with Halo
Benchmarks with Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

Halo
For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the latest v1.06 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1600x1200. Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with Halo at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

At 1024x768 we saw a little give and take between the three cards.  The two X850XT cards were essentially tied for the top spot while the V9999 lagged by 28FPS.  When we increased the resolution to 1600x1200, the 16 Pipeline X850XTs flexed their muscles, with the Turbo turning out the best overall score, by 2 frames.  The V9999 GE held third by 12.5 FPS when compared to the Turbo X850XT.

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Performances Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Performances Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Stealthy Combat

Splinter Cell
Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos and incorporates a previously unavailable benchmarking tool. The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we opted for the custom Oil Rig demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test with this game. Beyond 3D's demo removes two CPU intensive routines while increasing dependence on Pixel Shader performance. Shaders are used to render realistic looking ocean water surrounding an Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect for a brief period. Also note that anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter Cell. Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

At 1024x768, the X850XT PE managed the best score with the Turbo model keeping a close second by 3.28 FPS.  When running at 1600x1200, the X850XTs continued their lead, keeping it within 4.66 FPS of each other.  The V9999 slipped no less than 15 FPS troughout, when compared to the Turbo X850XT.

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Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
DX8 and DX9 Shaders

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 comes to us by way of Massive Development. Massive's release of the original Aquanox in 1999 wasn't very well received by the gaming community, but it was one of the first games to implement DX8 class shaders, which led to the creation of Aquamark 2 - a benchmark previously used by many analysts. Since the Aquamark benchmarks are based on an actual game engine, they must support old and new video cards alike. Thus, the latest version of Aquamark, Aquamark 3, utilizes not only DirectX 9 class shaders, but DirectX 8 and DirectX 7 as well. We ran this benchmark at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 with no anti-aliasing followed by 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

There was little variation in results with either X850XT, regardless of resolution.  With each go-around, the Platinum Edition held onto the slightest of leads over the Turbo model.  The V9999 kept things close at 1024x768 but suffered some at 1600x1200, especially with the 4XAA/8X Aniso test.

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Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Epic's Next Smash Hit!

Unreal Tournament 2K4
Epic's "Unreal" games have been wildly popular, ever since the original Unreal was released in the late '90s. Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and then Unreal Tournament 2003, rapidly became some of our favorites, for both benchmarking, and for killing a few hours when our schedules allowed it! Epic recently released the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 2004. We used the demo version of the game to benchmark these cards at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200, without any anti-aliasing, followed by 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

At 1024x768, we continued to see what is essentially equal performance between the two X850XTs.  Yes, the Platinum Edition was technically faster, but the margins really were inconsequential.  The V9999 managed the best result at 1024x768, but once we increased to 1600x1200, the X850XTs were the best performers.  We saw the PE take a steady lead with no AA while the two X850XT cards evened out with 4XAA/8X Aniso enabled.  The V9999 GeForce 6800 struggled to keep up, taking a severe performance hit with the two filtering methods enabled.

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Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 Effects Galore.

Far Cry
If you've been on top of the gaming scene, you probably know that Far Cry is one of the most visually impressive games to be released on the PC to date.  Although Doom 3 and Half Life 2 have both arrived, Far Cry still looks great in comparison, especially with the new v1.3 patch installed and some special effects turned on.  Far Cry came along and gave us a taste of what was to come in next-generation 3D gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in this review with a custom-recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint at various resolutions without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 4X AA enabled along with 8X anisotropic filtering.  Geometry instancing and normal map compression were enabled for these tests, but HDR rending was disabled.  The default pixel shader code path was used.

At 1024x768, all three cards were in a tight formation, with the V9999 managing to eke out a better score than the X850XTs.  This can be considered well within any normal variations one might expect, especially with CPU limitation being a factor.  This was evident once we applied AA and Aniso and then increased the resolution to 1600x1200.  At 1600x1200, the pattern looked more normal, with the X850XT PE taking lead with the Turbo trailing by 3-4FPS.  The V9999 GeForce 6800 took the biggest hit in the end, barely able to compete with 4XAA/8X Aniso at 1600x1200.

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Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Single Player
In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.

Doom 3
id Software's games have long been pushing the limits of 3D graphics.  Quake, Quake 2, and Quake 3 were all instrumental in the success of 3D accelerators on the PC.  Now, years later, with virtually every new desktop computer shipping with a 3D accelerator, id is at it again with the release of the visually stunning Doom 3.  Doom 3 is an OpenGL game using extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows.  We ran this benchmark using custom demos with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 without any AA and then with 4X antialiasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

This test yielded the most consistent stair-stepped pattern we've seen thus far.  At both resolutions and filtering method, the Platinum Edition X850XT took the pole position while the Turbo took second, followed by the V9999 GE.  The V9999 took its biggest performance hit in the 4XAA / 8X Aniso test at 1024x768, falling approximately 12 FPS to the Platinum Edition.  At 1600x1200, those margins narrowed some, with the ATI cards taking a larger hit with 4XAA / 8X Aniso enabled.

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Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Multi-player
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Doom 3 - Multi-player
The Wait Is Over!.

Doom 3
The first round of Doom 3 focused on single-player performance.  In this round we'll run a series of multiplayer tests and see how things unfold.  These timedemos were run with our custom "HH_Frag2" demo, which is a recording of a five-player online match that took place in the "Frag Chamber" map area. We ran benchmarks with Doom 3 set to its "High-Quality" mode at resolutions of 1,024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200 without any anti-aliasing enabled and then with 4X AA and 8X Aniso enabled concurrently.  Note: Doom 3 enabled 8X anisotropic filtering automatically when set to "High Quality" in the game's control panel.

With the multi-player segment, the GeForce 6800 made a strong stand against the two X850XT models.  At 1024x768, all three were virtually tied with NoAA testing.  Once we enabled 4XAA/8X Aniso, we saw a proper decline from the fastest to the slowest card.  When we increased to 1600x1200, the 6800 managed the top spot at 91.4FPS and managed to keep a second spot with 4XAA/8X Aniso enabled.  At this stage, we are still seeing a degree of CPU limitation influencing the scores at 1600x1200, which was evident with this minor flipflop of 4XAA/8X Aniso scores between the X850XTs.

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Benchmarking With Chronicles of Riddick
Benchmarking With Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay
Doom 3 Engine at Work
Chronicles of Riddick
Starbreeze Studios is responsible for creating this season's surprise hit (at least on the PC), The Chronicles of Riddick - Escape From Butcher Bay.  Those familiar with movie will recall Butcher Bay was one of the prison options on tap for the main character.  While the movie never actually made it to Butcher Bay, we find the main character right at home in this surprisingly good game.  Not only does it boast excellent game play with stunning visuals and mature story line, the Chronicles of Riddick proves to be a tough challenge and a game worth buying, making it an excellent candidate for benchmarking.

At 1024x768, we saw a tight pattern, with the three cards keeping within 5FPS in the No AA test.  With 4XAA/8X Aniso enabled, the scores were even tighter, with the 6800 managing to slip ahead of the X850XTs by a slim margin.  At 1600x1200, the No AA pattern continued to be close while the 4XAA/8X Aniso test was even closer, with the 6800 topping the X850XT Turbo.

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Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
Benchmarks & Comparisons With Half-Life 2
It Shipped!  And it's GOOD!


Half Life 2
Thanks to the dedication of millions of gamers and a huge mod-community, the original Half-Life became one of the most successful first person shooters of all time.  So when Valve announced Half-Life 2 was close to completion in mid 2003, gamers the world over began chomping at the bit.  Unfortunately, thanks to a compromised internal network; the theft of a portion of the game's source code; a couple of missed deadlines; and a tumultuous relationship with the game's distributor, Vivendi Universal, we all had to wait until November 2004 to get our hands on this gem.  We benchmarked Half-Life 2 with a long, custom- recorded timedemo that takes us along a cliff and through a few dilapidated shacks, battling the enemy throughout.  These tests were run at resolutions of 1024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200 without any AA or aniso and with 4X anti-aliasing and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

Once again, at 1024x768, the X850XT's were essentially tied, while the V9999 Gamer Edition took the third spot.  When we increased the resolution to 1600x1200, the Platinum Edition offered the best overall performance.  We saw close to a 4 FPS variation with the Turbo edition, which widened to 6 FPS with 4X AA / 8X Anisotropic Filtering enabled.  The V9999 rounded out the test by lagging the Platinum Edition by no less than 24FPS with No AA and 47 FPS with 4XAA and 8X Aniso enabled.

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Overclocking the X850XTs & Our Conclusion
Overclocking the HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo and Platinum Edition VIVO 256MB AGP
Making The Fast Even Faster

In our final segment, we took each card to task with overclocking to see just how high we could go.  Granted, these are identical cards with a different BIOS, both capable of the same speeds.  But we gave each one its own time on the bench nonetheless.

We managed the best increase with the Platinum Edition X850XT, while the Turbo wasn't too far behind.  The Platinum Edition managed a peak core speed of 561MHz while the memory peaked at 1210MHz.  This resulted in an increase of 3.8% core and 2.5% memory.  The Turbo edition hit 555MHz core and 1200MHz memory, resulting in an increase of 6.73% and 11.11% respectively.  In the end, the Platinum Edition managed the best overclocked performance by a marginal 3 FPS compared to the Turbo edition.

As we gather our thoughts and try to conclude our experience with the HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP and HIS X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP, we end up questioning the value of the Platinum Edition vs the equally capable Turbo model.  Both models had the same retail package, and the Turbo was capable of running at the Platinum Edition speeds.  The main difference overall was the BIOS between the two cards.  To help discern the best value, we needed to contemplate the pricing for each model.  However, it seems that availability has once again become HIS' Achilles Heel. 

Currently, we've only been able to locate these cards at one on-line retailer.  The Platinum Edition was selling for $560 and the Turbo model was available for $460.  The Turbo model represents a $100 savings for what is essentially the same video card.  That's a huge plus in our book.

Based on the performance of the two cards, it doesn't make much sense to pick the Platinum Edition over the Turbo model.  At the default speeds, the Turbo was only a slight step behind the Platinum Edition in most tests, and the Turbo can be manually increased to run at the Platinum speeds using iTurbo anyway.  Factor in similar overclocking results and this further drives our point home.  Essentially, all you get with the Platinum Edition is the convenience of not having to use iTurbo to run the card at 540/1180.

We give the HIS X850XT IceQII Turbo VIVO 256MB AGP a Hot Hardware Heat Meter of 8.5

We give the HIS X850XT Platinum Edition IceQII VIVO 256MB AGP a Hot Hardware Heat Meter of 7.5.

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